MPs accused of treating staff like servants in bullying review

MPs have been accused of treating staff like servants in a revealing review into bullying and harassment in Parliament.

The review, launched in November 2018 and carried out by independent external reviewer Debbie Francis, came back on Tuesday with 85 recommendations.

It revealed one staffer said they had to buy clothing for an MP and then got yelled for not ironing it. Another cleaned up an office after a party, "with my boss sleeping it off on the couch".

There was also harassment based on sexual orientation, with respondents complaining about "constant sniggering and joking about gays".

Generally, the bad behavior comes from a well-known small group of MPs described as "the few who are various shades of s**ts".

The review followed allegations of harassment and bullying by former National MP Jami-Lee Ross, as well as accusations of bullying against National MP Maggie Barry, and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri who was sacked as a minister last year.

When asked if she had seen any bullying around Parliament, Barry told Newshub: "No." She said she hadn't bullied anyone.

Whaitiri has also denied bullying accusations made against her. Earlier this month she said: "From the time that the allegations were made, up until today, I've always refuted them.

The review revealed 50 people reported unwanted touching and 54 people reported unwanted sexual advances, with sexual messages via text a problem.

But extremely worrying was the revelation that there were 14 reports of sexual assault - 11 made by current staff members.

When asked if there will be further action taken specifically about those people, Francis said: "Not for me to say - this was not an inquiry or investigation."

However, asked if an investigation is needed, she said: "Possibly."

How MPs responded

 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded to the review saying she has asked to receive regular reports from the Department of Internal Affairs and Parliamentary Services on how offices in Parliament are working.

"It's incredibly worrying [and] incredibly distressing. This should be a place [where] people should feel safe to come to work, an exemplar, and at the moment it's not."

When asked if she acknowledges that some Labour MPs could be guilty of bad behaviour, she told Newshub: "Where I've had that brought to my attention I've sought to deal with it."

But Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said "it's not happening in New Zealand First" and said to "ask any of our staff - no one's left, everyone is seriously happy".

National leader Simon Bridges said: "We've all got a problem - we all need to own it."

Bridges' National colleague Judith Collins said she was "surprised we haven't had self-harm or suicide" in Parliament.

Kris Faafoi said he's "seen some things around" Parliament that he "wouldn't like to see", while Finance Minister Grant Robertson said he saw "some incidents" of bullying when he was a staff member.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he hasn't "been on the receiving end" as much as he's seen bullying in Parliament, while National MP Chris Bishop said Parliament is "a pretty robust place to work".

Jami-Lee Ross, now an independent MP, told Newshub: "I think we've all contributed in a poor way to the culture [and we] all need to do better."

Francis has described it as the perfect storm: Power imbalances, time poverty, intense pressure to perform, fear of mistakes, unrelenting scrutiny, hyper-competitiveness and a lack of diversity in the workforce.

She said it will take three to five years to turn the culture around.

The 85 recommendations include a parliamentary code of conduct. Francis said she wants everyone to sign it, including MPs, staff and the media.

Support services are a big part of it, including psychologists with sexual harm experience on site, and an anonymous tip line will be set up.

Party leaders will also be forced to take more responsibility for their MPs.

She recommended staff contracts be changed, the use of hush money minimised, and alcohol consumption be addressed.

It is massive: this is the biggest cultural shake-up Parliament has ever seen.

Newshub.

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